Cycling in the Netherlands
Amsterdam Travel Blog› entry 14 of 23 › view all entries
This morning was my last morning with Lydia for a week or so, as she has to head back to work while I have a conference starting Wednesday. We got up early to get her to the train station, while the streets were still being scrubbed clean from the previous night's revelry. We said our farewells, I nearly made Lydia miss her train as she jumped through closing doors after one last kiss, and I went back to bed for a decent sleep in.
Apart from lazy
naps and copious amounts of good food, today was spent joining the
hundreds of thousands of Amsterdamers on bike.
We saw one of the
remaining Dutch windmills, once ubiquitous as they reclaimed land
from the water using an Archimedes screw, now relatively rare (many
were ripped up for fuel during the long hard winter at the close of
WWII) and simply show-pieces (with the real work being done by
sophisticated pumps). The windmills are more than just a national
monument and tourist attraction, they are an insight into the Dutch
mentality. The Dutch are often called liberal, and indeed there are
many liberals in the country, but it is not a defining characteristic
like it is with the Nordic countries.
Rather than being
liberal, the Dutch have a "polder mentality". Those who
live in the polder, the reclaimed land, have to rely on each other.
They might not like each other, but unless they all work together the
defences fail and they all will be together under the water. This has
taught the Dutch that social problems need social solutions, and to
tolerate your neighbour even if you don't like them. Unlike many
other countries, the Netherlands also remembers that during WWII it
was not only the Nazi facists that committed the holocaust – plenty
of homegrown facists actively took part in a purge of Jews,
communists, homosexuals and liberals.
windmill was Rembrandt Hoeve, so called because the farmhouse
appeared in the background of several sketches Rembrandt did of
windmills. The farm is a cheese and clog factory, and we got to watch
both being made. The clogs are surprisingly quick to make on a simple
lathe. Now only four factories make wooden clogs in the Netherlands,
and most of those go to tourists. The only people who wear them now
tend to be farmers, because it is practical to have a shoe that
floats and dries quickly when working in a polder, and one that saves
your foot if you are stomped on by a cow.
On the ride back we stopped in at an Irish pub for a beer. I had a quick couple of Duvel's to refresh myself, quite a nice beer and surprisingly strong (strong enough that the Irish bartender said to me when I ordered my second "you do know this is not an ordinary beer, right?"). I got good language advice from our guide, who only spoke English until he was thirty, but is now fluent in five languages (which is good to hear from someone who was monolingual beforehand). He said that he learned Danish when living in Copenhagen with his Danish girlfriend by borrowing Danish pornographic comic books from the Copenhagen library (which had a very large collection). She made him read one to him every night, and corrected his Danish in the nicest possible way. He said the experience was very rewarding.